Around UC Irvine, the phrase inside game is usually used only when referring to the fact that the Anteaters do indeed play basketball under a roof and surrounded by four walls.
Power basketball? Bone crunching under the boards? Not at Irvine, where the primary game plan is tiny Scott Brooks from three-point land.
However, on those nights when Brooks fails to score, oh, 30 points or so, the Anteaters can be easy prey. Thus, Irvine entered Saturday's game against Cal State Long Beach with an overall record of 10-8 and a Pacific Coast Athletic Assn. mark of 5-4.
But in an 81-66 victory over the 49ers in front of 3,244 in the Bren Center, the Anteaters took an adventure in previously unchartered territory.
They won this one from five feet in.
Center Wayne Engelstad had a career-high 26 points and 11 rebounds, hitting 9 of 15 field-goal attempts. Forward Frank Woods added 22 points on 8-of-10 shooting. He also had 10 rebounds--six of those offensive, all but one coming in the first half.
And stunning statistic of stunning statistics: Irvine outrebounded Long Beach, 41-27.
How significant were these numbers? Well, consider that:
--The Irvine backcourt of Brooks, Kevin Floyd and Mike Hess combined for just 25 points.
--Brooks, averaging 23.3 points a game, managed but 17 while missing 6 of 7 three-point attempts.
--Irvine, the PCAA capital of the three-point field goal, didn't score from beyond 19-9 until only 7:31 remained.
Yet Irvine (11-8, 6-4) avenged Monday's 78-71 loss at Long Beach (10-10, 5-3) with relative ease--opening a 10-point halftime lead, blowing it in less than eight minutes and then recovering for an eventual 15-point triumph.
And the Anteaters did it by . . . going inside.
"It's a change. It's definitely a change," said Woods with a grin as big as the four first-half baskets he scored on tips and follow shots.
"I don't know how I managed to get open like that. Either my man was losing me or the ball was hanging on the rim. I can't remember when I've gotten that many offensive rebounds. It's been a while."
Engelstad, in his third season as an Anteater, knows about the scrawny image Irvine owns--despite his own 240-pound presence.
"Yeah, Coach Bo (assistant coach Mike Bokosky) kinda pounds that into us," Engelstad said. "You always hear, 'Irvine's soft.'
"Personally, I don't think I'm soft. I'm not afraid of banging with anybody. But stuff like that gets me pumped up. If anybody thinks I'm soft, I'd like to see how they feel the morning after."
The emphasis on inside offense was premeditated. Irvine Coach Bill Mulligan watched the videotape from the first Long Beach game and figured the 49ers would key on Brooks. In the first game, Brooks scored 23 points.
"They were so conscious of us outside, we had to try to get the ball inside," Mulligan said.
"We knew they'd try to take away Brooks. In fact, (Friday), I didn't even practice Brooks. I sat him down and had us run five-on-five without Brooks--just to see if we could do it."
As usual, Long Beach tried to drown the opposition with its depth. Coach Ron Palmer used all 11 players--10 playing at least 10 minutes.
Mulligan retaliated by playing nine. He brought in little-used Steve Florentine less that four minutes into the game and brought back Arthur Phillips, who last played on Dec. 4 and missed a month of practice because, as an Irvine press release put it, "his desire to play the game has fluctuated."
"You play Long Beach and pretty soon, you start subbing the way they do," Mulligan said. "I was bringing people in and out of the game like crazy."
Long Beach shot well enough--52%--and had three players score in double figures. Rigo Moore led with 14 points, followed by Andre Purry with 13 and DeAnthony Langston with 10.
But on this night, Long Beach became that rare opponent to actually get outmuscled by the Anteaters.
Irvine is 6-4 in the PCAA, just a half-game behind the second-place 49ers.
"If anyone had told me before the season that we'd be 6-4 at this stage," Mulligan said, "I'd have married 'em."
Before the season, Mulligan's Anteaters were picked to finish eighth in the PCAA by both the coaches and the media. Street And Smith's magazine had them ninth.
The knock on the Anteaters? They had no inside game.